Many in Nebraska have been highly critical of three football players at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln who dropped to their knees during the playing of the national anthem on Saturday, joining athletes nationwide in a protest against police brutality. As some called for the students to be punished in some way, Hank Bounds (right), president of the university, said that they had the right to express themselves and wouldn't be punished.
He followed that with a statement Wednesday in which he more fully discussed the value of free speech in higher education. Here are some excerpts from the statement:
I have served in the military. I understand love of country and love of the flag and I know that freedom is not free. I recognize that some are upset by what they saw on Saturday night. But let me be clear. The University of Nebraska will not restrict the First Amendment rights of any student or employee. Our position on this issue is abundantly clear. As stated in Board of Regents policy, which has been in place for almost a half century: “Members of the academic community have the right to extensive latitude in making their opinions known …. The public exploration and resolution of differing views can be successful only when groups and individuals discuss the issues in forums where the right to disagree, speak freely and be heard is preserved.”
The same freedoms that protect the speech of those who have joined the conversation in recent days also protect our students' speech -- whether they're kneeling during the national anthem, holding the American flag on the field, praying after a game or expressing their opinion during class or on campus. All of that speech falls under the same category. All of it is protected.
Our nation is dealing with difficult issues today, as we have for virtually our entire history. Each of us will react differently. College campuses, as much as any space, must be places where robust, even uncomfortable, debate is welcomed and encouraged.
The full statement may be found here.
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